Chapter Number 23
Monday morning, and after contacting Dave, my builder, and asking him to quote for the work needed to put my place back as it was before the film company got their hands on it, I contacted Julian and Tristan to get some more information on their friend who made the porn movies.
They told me they had been quite disappointed to learn their friend had given up the porn business because there were too many doing it live on computer websites and in chatrooms. He had since turned his hand to growing his own cannabis in a converted loft, and was currently looking for distributors. Always looking for new opportunities, Julian and Tristan revealed they were considering it themselves.
Business had been really tough for them this year and they had considered trying to sell up, but having seen the numbers of guest houses and hotels on the market, and the drop in prices, they had decided to stick it out a little longer. To make ends meet, Julian had even thought about taking a job stacking shelves in the local supermarket. The meats counter, of course!
Letting their friend use my place to make porn films was now a non-starter, but it led me to think about the local art and technical college where they did all sorts of courses in film studies, both technical and visual. Without further ado I contacted the principle and told him I was prepared to let out those rooms of mine which had all the lighting equipment and gantries for cameras still in place.
The students could use them at £50 per room per day. Much to my surprise a lot of interest was shown, and on Tuesday a senior lecturer paid me a visit. He immediately booked the two bedrooms and the dining room. Over the next four weeks they will be used for various course projects: some just on camera technique and others on making short films. It was a good result, and it will certainly help defray the builder’s costs.
For the moment I am enjoying the freedom of being able to check out the clubs and pubs, as I know within a month or two all the work will be completed and I shall be back to running my place again for guests. I have informed all the locals of the film company going bust, and of me reverting back to a normal business in the next two months. It seems to have calmed them down a bit, including Belinda.
Tuesday, and it was off to a social with the new gay group. This time it was held at Dickeys Drive-In Hotel, which actually only had three parking spaces around the back of their place on a bit of waste ground next door, however they thought it added a touch of class and advertised it widely for the stag and hen groups, opening only for the weekends. It is a double-fronted property that is ever so slightly in need of some renovation. All the windows in the place have been screwed shut to stop them falling out onto the street, and the chimney stacks lean at precarious angles.
When it rains, water cascades down from what is left of the guttering and the broken down-pipe on to the flat roof covering the bar/lounge. They call it their water feature. It is the only place I have seen with working gas wall-lights. They say they are very handy for when the electricity goes off, and apparently that is fairly often - especially when they put on all the disco equipment at weekends. It seems that, as they are only renting the place until it is pulled down, they cannot be doing with all the rules and regulations. Next door has already been demolished, leaving the side of their place shored-up with huge timbers, so they were going to make as much money as they could in the meantime.
The guys that run the place, Norman and Fred, own two Dobermans and claim they have very little trouble from guests. They do seem butch enough to look after themselves.
They had made their bar/lounge look very homely. I noticed the decorated huge Chinese urns that were strategically placed under the areas with missing and stained ceiling tiles, and was laughingly told they were “ a bit of a bugger to empty after a good old downpour.” There was a large flat-screen television on one wall, and the bar occupied the whole of another, whilst the third wall catered for the DJ console and the glitter balls. All the walls seemed to have been decorated in left-over rolls of wallpaper, as every few strips became a different pattern and colour.
With the bar/lounge also serving as the dining room, all the tables had been pushed in front of the double window that fronted the street so that with the drawn, heavy, black, moth-eaten curtains, they made a very affective stage area for the karaoke that came later.
Norman and Fred had gone to a lot of trouble to provide a buffet. Along half of the bar they had set out sandwiches of salmon, ham, cheese, and egg next to pork pies, quiches, gateaux’s, and a good mix of salads too. They had prepared it all the previous day and, having covered it in rather grubby and slightly damp tea towels, they had thoughtfully left a table fan blowing over it at full speed, even leaving it on all night, to keep any flies away.
Without any neighbours they could have the disco as loud as it would go. Invariably it was at a level that distorted the sound and, whenever an announcement was made through the microphone, the high-pitched whistle that ensued had everyone clasping their ears until hasty adjustments were made to the console. The well-scratched and cigarette burnt laminate floor shook with every step one took across it, and when someone accidentally dropped a pen we all watched, fascinated, as it rolled away to a corner of the room.
Some of the group complained about the bar prices being a tad high, dearer even than the clubs, but in fairness Norman quickly turned the tariff board around to display a much cheaper menu. “Sorry," he said with a sneer, "I meant to do that earlier. Still, never mind, what’s a few pence matter to me? We need to finish off this barrel anyway.”
Eventually the buffet was declared open and it was a chance to make the announcements for the new group, which incidentally has changed its name from SOS to “Southtrend Hotel Area Gay” - SHAG, for short. Patrick, our new leader and chairman, had already produced leaflets and a SHAG logo in big, bold, gold lettering to go up on the new web-site that Danny and Sidney, known affectionately as the Chuckle Brothers, were putting together.
They in turn had been working on listing all the members’ establishments, and adding pictures of them along with short descriptions of what was available to any potential visitors. The banner, in brightly coloured large letters that moved across the top of page, read: “Wanting A Shag Place To Stay In Southtrend? Look No Further.” Someone suggested putting links on the site to sell underwear and magazines, saying perhaps it should even have a chat room too.
Norman thought it would be a good idea if his phone number was put on the home page as he and Fred would be more than willing to man the telephone 24 hours a day. They could take deposits on their PDQ machine and pass on the bookings to individual members, provided they told them what availability they had a few days in advance. He would then just deduct a small amount from the deposits to cover his costs, prior to forwarding the balances at the end of each month.
Danny and Sidney were quick to point out that this would not work. I think they were just a bit suspicious of Norman’s motives, but too polite to say so. Danny said that if they did anything like that it would have to be fully automated through a booking agency, where obviously there would be a small charge but the group funds would also get a small commission.
Dave, from the Dandelion Hotel, was concerned that any members who were not online all the time would lose out to those that were - they would be creating a two-tier group which favoured the clever arses with computers - but Patrick stated it was up to the members to have a proper system in place. If they didn't, then that was their problem. They were supposed to be running professional businesses, so there could be no room for the complacent in the organization.
“Hang on,” shouted out Tracy from the Sun Kissed Villa, “we thought this was supposed to be a social group where we helped each other, but it looks like some of us are trying to cream off the business for themselves.”
“Well,” replied Patrick. “We do have to move with the times. I am already looking to form a buying group for the members, and some of my suppliers are very interested. I was thinking members could telephone me with their orders for jams, butters, loo rolls and anything else, and I would then take delivery of them and later they could collect their order from me. I can buy slightly cheaper in bulk and pass on some of the savings to the members. I could also do something similar by advertising all the members under the SHAG banner in the gay magazines.
At this point everyone wanted to talk at once, and some quite heatedly, until Raymond interjected and suggested that the committee should hold another meeting to discuss all the proposals in detail. So, with a sigh of relief from everyone, it was back to the warm beer and the raffle - where I managed to win a box of out-of-date butters, kindly donated by Norman. The proceeds, a healthy £45 in an old shoe box, was quickly claimed by Patrick who passed it on to John, the treasurer, for the group funds, but it was quickly wrestled back by Norman to pay for the buffet. Yet another heated debate ensued. This one about who would pay for the sandwiches.
People started putting them back on to the bar, even with teeth marks in them, and furtively tried to back away, but once again Raymond came to the rescue and suggested that the money be split on this occasion between SHAGs and Dickeys Drive-In Hotel. Norman agreed, and his partner was instructed to put the Dobermans away again.
The rest of the evening was very entertaining, with the karaoke and a few lewd jokes from our hosts. At around 11pm a steady drip, drip, drip into the Chinese urns told us it had started to rain outside, and soon afterwards wisps of smoke could be seen coming from three multi-plug adapters in a four way extension lead that supplied power to the disco lighting, Fred rushed to pull some of them out, and the sudden gloom provided people with a good opportunity to start leaving.
Soon we were all on our way home. Fortunately Raymond had arrived in his old Rolls Royce with his friend Robin, so along with Celia and Sonja - who had wrapped the left-over buffet in newspapers and taken it because it was: “a shame to see it all go to waste when it will do our residents a treat tomorrow afternoon as they are sitting outside in their wheelchairs” - I climbed into the Roller for a grand ride home in style. At the last moment, Andrew and Kelly managed to squeeze in too - and sat down on a pile of sandwiches which immediately spewed mayonnaise out onto the back seat.
“Sorry, Raymond. They are pressed beef now,” one of them quipped.
“Damn,” Celia exclaimed. "They were the salmon ones. I was going to have them myself for breakfast.”
On the way home Andrew and Kelly from the Pastel Hotel, who were also on the SHAG committee, started to question where the new group was going. It appeared to be running away from being just a social group, they claimed. They said that Patrick and the new couple from Dickeys Drive-In only seemed to be interested in what was in it for themselves, and earlier they had even overheard the three of them discussing divvying up any enquiries that might come through the new website.
“Over my dead body,” said Celia. "I shall write a strong letter of complaint to the secretary of SHAGs."
“You are the secretary,” Kelly reminded her.
Always a stickler for correct procedure, Celia responded, “It still has to go through the proper channels. I can’t possibly put it on the agenda for the next committee meeting if I don’t have a formal written complaint.”
Sonja, her partner who had said very little all evening and seemed quite content sipping on a glass or two of the rather cheap red wine that was sold, suddenly interjected with, “Is it true that the place where all the rent boys go - you know, the one that does the lap dancing and has the male strippers in cages - are also members of the group?”
“Don’t be silly,” said Andrew. ”That would just bring us all into disrepute. We would look like a bunch of sleaze-bags with knocking shops. Respectability is why Julian and Tristan haven't been asked to join."
Celia replied, “As it happens, they are members. Patrick signed them up along with Norman and Fred. They all like the club, and so I have heard Patrick can be seen there occasionally - on his knees with his tongue out in front of the cages, though more in hope than expectation, I imagine.”
“It looks like we will have a lot to discuss at the next meeting,” Raymond, a master of the understatement, declared.
As I arrived home, it
crossed my mind that perhaps it was a good thing I had been asked to stand
down from the committee. Running the group looked very difficult, and was
best left to the experts. Still the socials looked to be fun, and I hope
they keep them going. They make a change from the same old pubs and clubs,
and you are able to talk to the other members and get to know them.
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